So what makes 42 tomato seedlings an Art Installation rather than a stall at a village fair?
The answer is intention and context. My intention was always to create Art, to be viewed and considered by an audience. Using living plants was always going to be slightly risky but was a vital part of the symbolism of this piece.
The disposable coffee cups they are growing in were collected by me every time I bought a tea or coffee when I was working in the studio. I knew I wanted to use these cups, but for a long time wasn’t sure how. The dimpled texture and bright colours appealed to me, along with the simple message enjoy with a smiley curve. They were stacking up on my windowsill over the months while I was dealing with my emotions around the illness and death of several friends.
In one of my moments of reverie staring out of the window the title came to me, Every Smile Bears Fruit, and I knew they would be perfect for growing seedlings. Tomatoes were the obvious choice, fast-growing and bearing edible fruit the same year.
The problem then was timing. I had to work backwards from the exhibition opening and work out when to plant the seeds. I settled on the day after the Spring Equinox, and very soon was delighting in the first little sprouts.
After two weeks I replanted any pots that weren’t showing seedlings, and watched with some trepidation as they all raced away – would they grow too much and all need re-potting before the exhibition? And watering became a regular part of my routine, along with turning and checking.
When it came to the exhibition set-up, I still wasn’t sure how I was going to display them, but I did know the area of the gallery I wanted to use. Donna and I struggled to move the heavy sideboard that was in that area, then I considered the options. In my original exhibition planning I’d specified shelves, but when it came to the day I decided that the floor was best. There are glass panels on the side of the stairs so the first view of the installation is at eye level.
I arranged the plants into curves, echoing the smiles on the cups, and mixing up the colours. The new green of the plants, and the smell they gave off, added to the whole ambience of the exhibition and delighted everyone who came to the Private View.
The final part of the Art context was my instruction that I wanted a photograph of everyone who bought a plant, holding it up and smiling, to go on the website as a record of the piece. These will be added to the Smile Project page on this site and I hope that people will send me photographic updates as their plants flower and fruit.
It is artwork with a temporal component, that needs visual documentation. It is continually changing and will eventually cease to be art. I am inspired by the Earth Art movement, artists such as Richard Long and Chris Drury, in which photographic documentation is often all that remains. Rather than using found natural materials or a repetitive action, I have used growing plants.
I think this may be an integral part of my future art practice. I planted up two of my head pots for this exhibition with plants that were meaningful and necessary to the titles (Pansy for Thoughtful and Rosemary for Remember Love); and my next exhibition piece for the Royal United Hospital project (Fusion July-October 2015) also features a planted head pot.
Watch this space.